A Real Ball-Buster

Squeezing the truth out of the Department of Corrections.

Ellsworth denied grabbing the inmate, but Perry contacted Quick the same day anyway and asked him to write an account of the incident. The camp director next called two officers who had worked under Ellsworth but had since been promoted. Perry reasoned that the two former guards--a man and a woman--would feel more free to tell the truth now that they no longer worked for Ellsworth. Both immediately confirmed Quick's account of the incident.

Not only that--both guards reported that it wasn't the first time they'd seen Ellsworth perform the ball-grab maneuver. The female guard, Rae Lewis, admitted she'd seen him grab other new inmates on "zero days" in February and March, too. Both she and the other former guard, William Mansheim, also confessed that they'd heard Ellsworth say words along the lines of "Watch this--it'll get them moving."

Yet both also conceded that they'd done nothing about Ellsworth's conduct. Lewis recalled laughing at Ellsworth and telling him his behavior was sick. For his part, Mansheim said he'd decided not to report the incidents because they would pit his word against his superior officer's. (The two were later disciplined for their inaction.)

Perry wrote up his report and submitted it to prison superintendent Gary Neet. Despite a medical report that showed Quick's testicles to be "tender" following zero day, Ellsworth again denied the charges in a hearing three weeks later. Oddly, backing him up was another inmate, Jason Archibeque, who claimed that Quick had admitted he was angry at the DOC and, as revenge, planned to make up a story of sexual assault by Ellsworth.

And Quick wasn't helping his own case. On May 10 he scrawled a letter and gave it to boot camp administrators. "I would like to make out what I would call an agreement paper," he proposed. After reminding them that he fully intended to file a lawsuit against the DOC, Quick wrote, "If I could be paroled home next month I would act as if it never happened." Prison officials say they never considered taking Quick up on his deal.

On May 28, Superintendent Neet reached his decision. He wrote to Ellsworth: "It is my opinion that you have abused your official authority through the unwarranted use of physical force on inmates."

While acknowledging Ellsworth's unblemished record until that point, Neet concluded that "had this been a single occurrence, a less severe sanction may have been warranted. However, it is my belief that there exists a pattern of offensive behavior that extends, at a minimum, over a four-month period of time; behavior which was premeditated, degrading, unethical, unprofessional, unwarranted and malicious."

Ellsworth was fired that same day. A month later, using the information gathered by DOC investigators, the Chaffee County District Attorney charged Ellsworth with sexual assault, assault and official oppression.

Since that time, Ellsworth has vigorously maintained his innocence. He has claimed that the reason Lewis and Mansheim squealed on him was that both guards disliked him. He appealed his firing, but in April 1997 a judge concluded that "the evidence presented amply supports the conclusion that [Ellsworth] physically abused inmate Jason Quick...and that he engaged in a pattern of physical abuse of inmates." Ellsworth has appealed his firing again, to the state Civil Service Commission; the case is pending.

In June 1997, Ellsworth agreed to a bargain with the Chaffee County DA, pleading no contest to official oppression. But when he heard the plea had earned him six months in jail, he tried to back out. After being bounced to county court and then district court, the question of whether or not he must stand by his plea last summer ended up at the state Supreme Court, where it sits to this day. Quick filed his promised lawsuit against the Department of Corrections about the same time that Ellsworth made his plea bargain.

Now 25, Quick is still in prison. His attorney, Morgan, says he was paroled recently only to be picked up after he ran away from a halfway house. Last month he was married in the Limon Correctional Facility. Since the incident at the boot camp, he has had two sperm counts taken, both of which confirmed his sterility.

Morgan admits that, in one sense, the case represents an instance of the system working as it should: An abusive guard was held responsible for his actions. But, he adds, on a larger scale, the case illustrates there is still work to be done in the prisons.

"It would seem that the DOC really isn't interested in finding out if there are any problems [in the boot camp]," he says. While Ellsworth may be gone, he adds, "you've still got a problem if there are officers who know of an assault and don't report it."

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